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What are early signs of HIV in men and women?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on July 10, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Suspect you could be experiencing symptoms of HIV? If so, keep reading to learn more about the early signs of HIV—plus get more information on HIV testing (including home testing with the Everlywell at-home HIV Test).

But first, let’s go over what HIV is.

HIV: a brief overview

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a sexually transmitted virus that spreads through exposure to certain bodily fluids—like genital secretions or blood. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

HIV attacks and impairs the body’s immune cells, which weakens the immune system and can eventually progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if it isn’t treated. AIDS is a life-threatening condition, particularly if treatment is not initiated promptly, which is why HIV testing is crucial for protecting your health.

Early signs of HIV

Some people experience flu-like symptoms at the start of an HIV infection. These symptoms usually develop within 2-4 weeks and may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This early stage of the infection is known as an acute HIV infection.

Possible symptoms of acute HIV include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Painful mouth sores
  • Swollen lymph nodes, mainly on the neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Mouth ulcers

It’s worth keeping in mind that these symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions—not just HIV. In short, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have HIV—which is why STI testing and consulting with your healthcare provider can be helpful next steps to take.

Fever

What is usually the first sign of HIV? Fever is at the top of the list—it’s one of the most common initial signs of an HIV infection. The fever may be accompanied by other symptoms like fatigue, swollen glands, and a sore throat.

Fatigue

Those who feel fatigued early on in the infection might feel winded or out of breath while walking or performing daily tasks.

Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes develop when your body fights infections. Lymph nodes can swell in the neck, armpits, and groin—and lead to aches and pains.

Skin rashes

Skin rashes can occur as both early and later symptoms of HIV. In some cases, the skin rashes look like boils that are itchy with pink breakouts. The HIV rash can also appear as a flat red area on the skin covered with small bumps.

Digestive issues

Digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also common signs of an HIV infection.

Night sweats

Night sweats can happen both as an early and later HIV symptom.

Sore throat and cough

A sore throat and a severe, dry cough can occur, as well. If you have an HIV-related sore throat, or other symptoms related to HIV, it's best to consult a healthcare provider to learn what steps to take next.

Possible HIV symptoms and signs in women

Most symptoms of HIV are similar among women and men. However, women may also experience recurring vaginal yeast infections (vaginal candidiasis).

Testing for HIV

If you have had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive partner, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible. Knowing if you’re infected—sooner rather than later—can help you begin HIV treatment before the infection seriously harms your health over time by progressing to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

It’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms of AIDS, as well, which can include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever
  • Night sweats
  • Lethargy
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss
  • Depression

Check for HIV from home with the Everlywell HIV Test

You can test for HIV from the privacy of your own home with our at-home HIV test kit. Only a small sample of blood is required (collected via a simple finger prick), and your results are easy to view on our secure, online platform.


What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?


References

1. HIV/AIDS. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

2. About HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

3. Early HIV symptoms: What are they? Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

4. Side Effects of HIV Medicines. AIDS Info. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

5. Crum-Cianflone NF. HIV and the Gastrointestinal Tract. Infect Dis Clin Pract (Baltim Md). 2010;18(5):283-285. doi:10.1097/IPC.0b013e3181f1038b

6. How Can You Tell If You Have HIV? HIV.gov. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

7. Vaginal Candidiasis May Sometimes Be An Early Warning of HIV Infection. AIDS Info. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.